Don’t forget to remember

The story of Veteran Peter Addis

by EVAN MATTHEWS

It’s not the sights or the sounds of war that necessarily stick with you, according to Veteran Peter Addis, but rather the horrible smells.

The sights and sounds come out in the nightmares, he says, but it’s the smell of blood, the smell of rotting bodies – the bodies of your comrades and friends – the smell of death, that never goes away.

“Hollywood glamorizes war and death, and it’s all good fun” says Addis. “But I’ve seen that in real life. I’ve seen (friends and) comrades get shot and blown up.

“I’ve seen the harsh realities, but I’ve also been a part the glamorous side of it – where you’ve helped, and you’ve made a difference in someone’s life because you helped,” he says.

Though never a member of the Canadian Armed Forces, 43-year-old Addis spent 14 years in the British Army, six of which as a front-line infrantry soldier and another eight years as a member of the security forces, while stationed in Germany.

“It doesn’t matter what forces you belonged to,” says Addis.

“Unfortunately, it’s war. But if you were a part of the American, Canadian, British or Australian military, it’s a brotherhood.

“As soon as you find out another person was ex-military, boom, You have a bond right there,” he says.

Photo: Courtesy of Peter Addis
Photo: Courtesy of Peter Addis

The beginnings of Addis’ military career began as an infrantry man during the Gulf and Bosnian Wars, he says, with his time in Bosnia coming in 1994, during the height of the war.

The Bosnian War was largely in part due to the disintegration of Yugoslavia, which was made up of three main populations: Muslim Bosniaks, Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats. The population voted for independence, since leaving the region as the independent countries of Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia, Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

He was stationed in Bosnia, in combat, for nine months.

“It’s a long time to be in that,” he says. “Some things I’ve only told my wife.”

What was once a beautiful country, Addis says, mentioning the 1984 Winter Olympics – fast forward only 10 years to 1994, and the war has destroyed and annihalated a nation, noting the bomb fragments and buiilding debris all over the ground.

“You get off the plane and you have your hard hat and bullet proof vest on, you’ve got a massive gun and a side arm, and you just start running,” says Addis.

“There are snipers stationed there to take you out, and you’re a target,” he says. “Everyone’s immune to it because it’s so glamorized, but there is nothing glamorous about it.”

After his time in the Bosnian War, Addis was transferred to security detail, where he was based in central Europe, Germany, specifically.

Though the Islamic State, ISIS, didn’t exist back then, Europe was littered with a variety of terrorist cells from the IRA based out of Ireland, to the Al-Qaeda in the Middle East.

Addis job, he says, was to act as a security coordinator of the Army Barracks he was stationed at, which was located roughly 300 KM from the former Nazi Concentration Camp, Bergen-Belsen.

His duties would include setting up check points, coordinating searches of people entering the premises, acting as a liaison between military local police, even acting as a body guard for a brigadier at one point.

But in a larger sense, he says his job was to make sure the lives of the British Army members at the camp, and their families, were secure.

“It’s about the comradership. It’s a friendship you won’t find anywhere else,” says Addis.

“You’d put your life on the line for the person standing next to you, and he’d do the exact same for you. At the end of the day, no matter what, that guy has your back.”

But war is about more than just knowing the person beside you has your back, according to Addis. There is a responsibility in that, as an infantry man, you have people’s lives in your hands.

Sometimes, when a soldier is in combat it can take as long as 15 minutes to make a request to a commanding officer and hear back on a decision, Addis says, but when you’re in the moment, sometimes you don’t have 15 minutes.

“You need to make the conscious decision knowing that someone could die as a result of your actions,” says Addis. “Is this guy going to kill me, or am I going to kill this guy?”

“Then it hits home. Wow. I’m at war here,” he says, noting the perplexing nature of pondering taking someone’s life – someone you don’t know the first thing about – because it’s your job.”

It’s something you don’t think about at the time, he says, because you can’t, or you’ve lost the battle at that point.

But now, 12 years later, Addis says he experiences nightmares of his time overseas. There are good days, and bad days, he says.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can occur after you’ve been through various traumas, according to the US National PTSD Center. Between seven and eight per cent of Americans will experience PTSD in their lives; however, military personnel have a much larger chance of experiencing it.

Photo: Courtesy of Peter Addis
Photo: Courtesy of Peter Addis

Military personnel involved in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom were as high as 11 to 20 per cent of veterans experienced PTSD, according to the US National PTSD Center, with Gulf War Veterans estimated at 11 per cent and the Vietnam war being as high as 15 per cent.

The issue of PTSD in military personnel has garnered headlines over the last couple of years, as various sources have reported rising suicide rates in the military.

Earlier this year, USA Today reported a study suggesting the American Army suicide rate was nearly 30 suicides per 100,000 soldiers, far above the national average of 12.5 per 100,000 civilians.

“I do have PTSD,” says Addis. “But I’m mild. I don’t have to take medication or take a psychiatrist. My wife is my biggest outlet.”
“I’m one of the lucky ones,” he says.

Though it’s imperative to remember on Remembrance Day, Addis says his time on Nov. 11 isn’t spent directly reflecting on his own time in the military, but rather it’s an opportunity for him to remember his good friends and comrades who fell in the line of duty.

It’s a hard time for him, he says, knowing friends have gone so he could stay.

“It’s survivor’s guilt or whatever you want to call it,” Addis says. “It’s a difficult time.”

Because there are so many distractions in our modern culture, Addis says sometimes the population fails to key in to international affairs.

Just because we’re not in the midst of the Third World War, doesn’t mean we live in a peaceful society, he says, and it’s crucial to remember, but more importantly be thankful to those who make the ultimate sacrifice.

“Since Korea, we’ve had the Gulf War, we’ve had Bosnia, Afghanistan, the second Gulf War, now we have Syria,” says Addis. “There is always some type of conflict going on.”

Though consistent conflict exists in the world, Addis says the younger generation sometimes fails to see it – there is a level of disconnect between foreign affairs and the younger generation, he says, adding it’s an observation, not an accusation.

Anybody who serves their country, according to Addis, is a veteran. Because Addis is a young man himself, he says often people are shocked when he tells them he’s a veteran.

It’s worth noting, Addis says, though military and police operations are very different, RCMP and local police, along with first responders, are equal of all the same praise and respect as military veterans, he says, as they’re serving their country and putting their lives on the line every day.

“They do things I’d never be able to do,” says Addis. “They say the same things about me though. It is what it is.”

In Valemount, the Remembrance Day service will take place at the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 266 at 11 AM, with the parade happening at 10:30 AM.

The Remembrance Day service in McBride will be held at the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 75 at 11 AM, with the parade taking place at 10:30 AM. A roast beef dinner will follow at the Legion Hall.

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